21 November 2000
Ban stays despite BSE tests

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

OLDER British cattle will still be banned from the food chain, despite new BSE tests, European food safety commissioner David Byrne has indicated.

Compulsory testing of all older cattle for BSE will be introduced throughout the European Union next year, agriculture ministers have decided.

The decision, which could affect up to 8 million cattle, came after a marathon 17 hours of negotiation, which ended in Brussels early on Tuesday (21 November).

Ministers agreed that all beef animals over 30 months old should face post-mortem testing for BSE before entering the human food chain from 1 July next year,

The measure will be financed half by the European Union and half by member states, costing an estimated Euro120m (72m) each for the 8m tests expected.

Announcing the decision, food safety commissioner David Byrne said it would send a clear, confidence-boosting message to consumers across the world.

Existing measures banning specified risk material controls and feeding meat and bonemeal to ruminants, ensured the safety of beef if properly applied, he said.

“But in recent weeks we have also seen an erosion of confidence in beef.”

The tests will have little direct impact in the UK, where older cattle are destroyed.

But there is little scope to use the tests as an alternative to Britains Over Thirty Months Scheme, which keeps older cattle out of the food chain, said Mr Byrne.

In addition, the council agreed to extend the EU testing programme for “at risk” animals – essentially fallen stock – which is due to take effect from 1 January, 2001.

It was intended that this would apply to a sample of about 170,000 animals a year. But ministers have now agreed to test all at risk animals over 30 months old.

With a unanimous mandate from ministers, these changes will now be formally ratified by the Standing Veterinary Committee on Wednesday (22 November).